‘Thy word is a lantern unto my feet and a light unto my path.’ Cheering words for a walker, the text that encircles the lych arch of St Swithun’s Church at Cheswardine.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Not that Jane and I had any need of lantern or light – the temporal sort, any way – on this gloriously clear morning of blue sky and crisp weather along the borders of Shropshire and Staffordshire. A casual, car-borne passer-through might dismiss such low-rolling green farming landscape as modest, even dull. But tracing out a circuit from the footpaths on OS Explorer 243, we found we’d lucked into a most beautiful walk in unsuspected country.
Puce-faced Cheswardine Hall looked down on us from its ridge; dozens of windows under the arched eyebrows of Gothic gables. Ice skinned the puddles, frost bearded the grass. The dark red sandstone soil lay studded with pebbles smoothed by ancient seas. A pale sun rode in a milky sky over a countryside carefully farmed and carefully maintained, where waymarks and stiles pointed out our path across fields of young wheat. Spinneys of sweet chestnut and oak rose here and there, and out of one of them we startled a pair of greylag geese with a tremendous brouhaha of panicky honking and sawing of powerful wings.
Below Lipley Farm a wonderful folly of a barn conversion was in process – a crow-stepped wall reminiscent of a German civic square at one end, a slender mock church tower at the other, and a thatched cottage pinched between them. By contrast, Chipnall Mill in its tangled dell on the banks of Coal Brook was no more than a pile of moss-green timbers, a broad millpond the only clue to its centuries of working life. From the ridge beyond we got wonderful views across the stream valley, out to far wooded hills of the blue A.E. Housman kind.
‘Roman Villa’ said the map as we neared the hill-top hamlet of Hales. Hummocks and a curving ditch in a field edge were all that remained. Among the neat estate-built cottages we caught the rich scent of newly cut pine from Hales’s sawmills. Down to the flooded fields around Coal Brook to watch greylags flying as solid and steady as cargo planes, then up a hedged green lane and a mossy holloway to the opposite ridge.
Down again through the wet hazel woodland of Lawn Drumble, and a last stretch beside a field of elephant grass growing for the biofuel furnace – a strangely exotic, tiger-striped finale to a green and pastoral, a thoroughly English country walk.
Start & finish: St Swithun’s Church, Cheswardine, Salop TF9 2RS (OS ref SJ 719299)
Getting there: Cheswardine is signposted off A529, south of Market Drayton
Walk: (7½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 243): Down Church Lane to T-junction (723302). Take track on right of Cheswardine Hall gates (fingerpost), past Marsh House; on across fields (kissing gates, yellow arrows/YAs) for 1 mile. Cross Moss Lane (737311), along Lipley Farm drive (fingerpost). Opposite house, right over stile (YA); skirt silage clamp; at bottom of field, over stile (YA). Bear left across field in front of cottage with tower, aiming for top left corner of field (740318). Cross lane (stiles, YAs); dogleg round field, right across stile (740320). Diagonally left across field: cross 2 stiles to right of Chipnallmill Farm (737322); down to gate (YA). Cross Coal Brook beside Chipnall Mill ruin; up through gate above to farm lane (736327); left along it for 1⅓ miles to Hales.
At road (719338), ahead for 170 m to T-jct; left. In ½ mile, pass Lloyd Cottage on left bend; right (719330) here down farm lane, through gate by stables; follow lane for ⅓ mile to recross Coal Brook (714329). Up green lane, then wet holloway (YAs) to Johnson’s Wood Farm (713324 – the more northerly of 2 named thus on Explorer map). Keep right of farm buildings; cross stile (YA); follow drive. Left at road; right (712316; fingerpost; ‘Cheswardine Park Farm’) between houses and along farm drive. In 100 m, left (fingerpost) across field, aiming between two woods. Along wood and field edges (YAs), through edge of Lawn Drumble (715307), on with fence, then wood on your left, into Cheswardine.
Lunch: Wharf Tavern, Goldstone, TF9 2LP (by canal, 1 mile from Cheswardine): 01630-661226; www.wharfcaravanpark.co.uk/wharf-tavern
NB Red Lion, Cheswardine (01630-661234) open evenings Mon-Fri, lunchtime and evenings Sat-Sun; Fox & Hounds, Cheswardine (01630-661244) open evenings Tue-Thur, lunchtime and evenings Fri-Sun.
Accommodation: Four Alls Inn, Woodseaves, TF9 2AG (01630-652995; www.thefouralls.com) – 3 miles from Cheswardine.
More information: Market Drayton TIC (01630-653114);